Fourth century B.C. was one of the most interesting periods in the history of India. It was during this period that India had one of its largest empires established. Out of a warring crowd of kings and princes of small states, Chandragupta was able to cobble up and create a united state of peace and prosperity and it became the famous Maurya Empire. And Chanakya, a very shrewd, intelligent and strong-willed inmate, helped him in achieving all this. Chanakya was Emperor Chandragupta Maurya’s guru, advisor and prime minister.
It was not just these positions that gave Chanakya a permanent place in the annals of history. Chanakya was the celebrated author of ‘Arthashastra’, India’s first book on political philosophy, principles and practice. He was known by several other names too, like Kautilya, Vishnugupta, Dramila, and Amgula. Arthashastra is also known as kautaliya, after the author’s name. The name Chanakya means one who was born in the place Chanaka, some experts conclude while some others are of the idea that Chanakya was the son of Chanaka, the exponent of the jurisprudence of the times. Another view is that this brilliant political planner and administrator was from South India, and that his other name ‘Dramila’ denotes both Tamil and Dravid. This view is expressed in the book ‘Abhidhana Chintamani’, authored by a jain monk named Hemachandra. In some other Jain texts too, Kerala is noted as the birthplace of Chanakya. In Arthashastra itself, there are mentions of chaurneyam, which is a precious stone available from the river Periyar, near Kodungalloor, the famous port-town of ancient Kerala. But in several Buddhist texts, Chanakya’s birthplace is given as Taxila (Takshashila of old). According to these sources, Chanakya had his education in astronomy, ayurveda and legal systems of the times from Taxila. And then he learned the languages of Persian and Greek. He adopted the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, at his later stage of life, according to certain other sources.
All these suggest how important a personage this man had been. It was Chanakya who made the founding of Maurya empire possible. Chanakya’s political strategies are termed ‘chanakya tantra’. It was these tantras which helped Chandragupta to annexe the erstwhile Greek territories of Takshashila, Punjab and Sindh and laid the foundations for a new empire. And the Maurya Empire came into being, with Pataliputra, the Patna of modern times, as its capital city. During Chanakya’s time, the Maurya Empire of Chandragupta extended from Himalayas on the north to Mysore in the south, and Persia on the west to Burma on the east. In spite of the power he enjoyed as the prime minister of Chandragupta, Chanakya lived a simple life in a small hut, and after setting up the foundations for the Maurya Empire, he returned to his humble perch in the forests, as the story goes.
‘Arthashastra’ or ‘Kautilyam’ is available in its English versions and also in German. It is one of the greatest contributions of human intellect to political theory and practice. What is notable in the book is the absence of religion, though it deals with social and political customs and legal practices.